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Fade

It is not our darkness, but our light, which most frightens us.

0 · 318 views · located in Old Forest Road

a character in “Ruyn Chronicles: The Winds of Fate”, as played by Sylwyn

Description

ImageName: Unknown
Alias: Fade
Gender: Unknown
Age: Unknown
Race: Unknown
Class: Nightblade
Occupation: Assassin
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Weapons: Longbow and dagger or dual Tantos

Appearance
The assassin known throughout the Empire as "Fade," has no notable features outside of the standard guild attire, with the exception of enigmatic eyes that reflect pools of iridescent color, and an androgynous voice with little to no inflection alluding to gender, age or race.

Personality
A trusted, loyal member of the Tyrnea Drenn best known for swift and merciless executions, this elusive character has been dubbed "Fade" by peasants and noblemen alike. Whether quelling an insurrection or taking down a nobleman, the assassin has been critically acclaimed as a hero of justice and a ruthless villain.

Equipment
Composite longbow, dagger, tantos, various potions, poisons and herbs, padded leather armor and cloth robes.

Abilities
Skilled with a blade or bow, Fade is also a master of illusion, using charm, intimidation and tricking the senses. Able to move swiftly and silently through the shadows, the assassin is also knowledgeable in plants and herbs of the wilds and has become a master at mixing the most deadly of poisons.

History
No one outside the guild knows Fade's background or race, but the assassin has earned mixed reviews around the Empire. Rumor has it the Nightblade was chosen for the Tyrnea Drenn at a very young age, and trained to become a killer capable of neither fear nor remorse.

So begins...

Fade's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anael Character Portrait: Fade Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

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#, as written by Sylwyn
Book One: Elegy


Prologue


"Mystery has its own mystery, there are gods above gods. We have ours, they have theirs, and that is what is known as infinity."

City of Ther
Castle Throne Room
Year 3455, Ruyn Calendar


“Eight, the perfect number,” Naonna’s voice, clear as droplets of rainwater into a shallow pool, resounded in the Great Hall, “A symbol of infinite wisdom, boundless as the stars, for that is why we chose the Avani. But, did we truly think their power alone could harness the fate of an entire world?”

Laonna, staring out one of the arched windows overlooking the city in the clouds below, deliberated before slowly shifting her scarlet gaze to the woman seated on the throne.

“It has been almost ten thousand years since Anael quelled the Rebellion and cast out Kudokuten. The Sleepers, even Drakrelib and his own, dwell deep beneath the surface, and the Dreamwalkers are all but forgotten by the most devout of mortal scholars. One, let alone eight, cannot alter the course of fate.”

“As we speak, Kudokuten already moves, silent as the shadows, spreading her dark influence to all she touches. Surely, the others will not stand for-“

“The others won’t stand for anything,” Laonna interrupted. “You know our sister would never leave the Eytherghymn. Azavar has the countryside, Alavara, the sea.” Lifting sharp white brows, she cast a hand toward the window. “The world will end while they are content to turn the other cheek. Why wait? Do you think the rest will be as forgiving when they learn of the ensuing chaos? Granted, no one knew Ruyn’s energy would be so intricately interwoven with the threads that bind the realms together, but we did what we came to do. It is better to sever ties while we can still count our losses.”

“I would hardly debit mortal lives as a trivial loss,” Naonna uttered the last word with such force, her younger sibling drew back, lips forming astonishment in the shape of an ‘O’. “What of the humans, and your husband?”

“Nimae? Bah!” Laonna gestured heatedly with one hand. “He sits under the My'Bael mountains, getting fat off his charges. He cares not for the affairs of men, and humans are but a pestilence we've allowed to run amok far too long. I regret the day we dragged those slovenly, drooling knuckle-draggers from their homeworld.”

“You would not be so quick to judge, if you saw them as I-”

Both women looked up at the sound of the throne room’s massive steel door sliding into the marble floor.

“Your Grace,” Anael folded ebony wings, his dark hair falling in front of his face as he swept into a low bow at Naonna’s feet.

The two women exchanged knowing looks.

“Rise,” Naonna commanded, lifting a hand to bid him stand before her. “Has the barrier been breached?” she asked, her tone resonating like the strings of a harp.

“No, not yet, my lady,” he replied, “but it has weakened, and Kudokuten’s power grows steadily. She now seeks to gain access to the Vaults and kill the Sleepers before they can be awakened.”

“What of the Guardians?”

“They may only delay the inevitable.”

“Anael, the Dawn is on final approach,” Naonna interjected calmly. “The Ka’ua have been amassing their army and preparing to send an emissary to the surface to investigate the barrier thinning. You know that barrier has separated and protected our realms for eons. If Kudokuten is allowed to destroy it-”

“Forgive me, my lady,” he cut in, shielding his gaze, glancing up only once to see her give the slightest of nods. “Even if we reach the Sleepers before she does, without our forces at full strength, the battle will be lost before it is begun.”

The High Elven stood, considering his words in a moment of silence before answering, “Do not despair, for a hope yet remains.”

“Excellency, do you mean…?”

“You know of whom I speak. Now, go, and see you do not fail.”

“Your Grace,” Anael bowed once more and turned, the trailing edges of his wing feathers gliding along the floor as he exited the throne room.

“Do you not wonder,” Laonna said aloud, when they were alone again, “that there might be something else out there, watching, in all its perfection, amusing itself with our fruitless attempts at playing a role for which we were not meant?”

Naonna swung her gaze away from the window, bearing contemplatively upon her blue-skinned sister. “A vain thought, well-versed, but vain, nonetheless. You know as well as I, even gods are not perfect."

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Excerpt from: A Strange Journal, translated

7th Gysse Aril
3455, Ruyn Calendar


For moments, only moments, the world seemed to quiver beneath me, as though a lover's fingertips swept the treetops. A mild breeze stirred the stray hairs around my face, and sent dewy beads of sweat trickling down my cheeks. I blinked perspiration from my lashes and shaded my eyes. Snow-capped western peaks contoured a celadon-streaked lavender sky. High above the mountains, the goldenrod wings of a griffon glinted like precious metal in the amber sun, Sha. The creature circled the tallest mountain, blocking the hazy light of Fis, Sha's distant blue companion, and dove below the tree line, the tip of its tail licking the sky like a flame.

Hot air shimmered above the worn, dusty road, blurring my view of the trees. Inhaling the bittersweet aroma of aged pine, I detected a sickly sweet, sulfurous odor tinged with a faint, coppery scent I started to cringe, but the buzzing of tiny wings diverted my attention. I glanced across the road at a sapphire blowfly zipping between the trees. The insect landed on my forehead and crawled around my temple, tickling the tip of a pointed ear with its hairy legs. I waved my hand to shoo it, and a drop of liquid plopped onto the ground. I peered down at the steel dagger still clenched in my palm. Crimson vitae interlaced with poison, black as a bruise dripped from the blade onto the gritty dust.

Blood. Nightshade.

I scratched my ear, and the carrion-eater flew away in search of another meal. How long had I been here? Minutes? Hours? Loathing to acknowledge reality, I let my gaze inch forward.

My shadow slithered, like an incorporeal serpent, across the ground as I knelt, reluctant to inspect the lifeless body. The Dark Elf's periwinkle skin, deathly pale against her scarlet brocade, had not yet begun to deteriorate, but the faint smell of decay signaled an early onset in the summer heat. My heart skipped a beat. She had... wanted to die. I tried to convince myself I had ended her suffering, but my hands would not stop shaking. I held tighter to the dagger, pushed back her snow-white hair and stroked the fair cheek of her lineless face. I ran my fingers across her long lashes, shutting gray, unseeing eyes. My kindred, confidante. My sweet sister, what feeling yet ravages me?

I wiped the blade on my breeches and slipped it into its shagreen scabbard. I had to move on. The shadowy wilderness deterred even the guards after dark.

I sifted through the meager provisions in my satchel: a pouch of herbs, drawing salve, a bit of bread and a few possessions. I swallowed the last drops of water from my canteen and emptied my coin purse. Two silvers, some coppers, a handful of gold: not enough for a room at the cheapest city tavern. A bedroll outside the waterfront shantytown would have sufficed; however, I did not intend to return to the walls of the place I called home.
Forgive me. I pressed my lips to the dark elf’s forehead, steeling myself for the inevitable desecration, but shut my eyes and fished through her pockets to retrieve the precious coins. I had looted the bodies of my foes before, but this felt... wrong.

Shouldering my satchel, I set off on the winding dirt road. With no map, I could still track the eastbound sun. Nary a passerby strayed this far north, and I trekked alone for miles, ignorant of the dampness at my neck and the mosquitoes biting my arms for want of ichor. By the time Sha touched the eastern mountains, I was delirious. My body trembled with fever, and I barely remembered to wrap my cloak about me to repel the chill.

Twilight birthed Dho, a luminous silver globe, to the east, with Am and Kan, her counterparts as waxing crescents at either side. The first twinkling stars peeked out at dusk, and crickets began a symphony, furiously rubbing their tiny legs together in the warm air. Above their trilling, I heard the creaks and groans of elder pines as sleepy forest dryads materialized and stepped leisurely from their trunks. Their obscure, bell-like laughter often led inattentive travelers to their doom, but the colorful glowing orbs of flittering woodland sprites marked the end of the roadside, and I managed to steer clear of the woods well into nightfall.

I heard the feathery wing beats of the beady-eyed Namatai overhead as it sought and snapped up dormice in its toothy beak, the black-muzzled Liura howling to their pack mates, and I imagined the Liuras' ear-tendrils and bushy tails fluttering, muscles rippling as they gave chase to prey near the foothills. Aimless but for the sinuous road, I kept moving, until at last, I staggered and collapsed into a heap. Blackness tinged my vision. I blinked, trying to ward unconsciousness, but I must have drifted off, for the sound of a man's voice roused me.

My eyes fluttered open to the flickering red-orange glow of torchlight illuminating a massive, shapeless form. As my vision cleared, I could just make out the shape of a large hoof. I jerked back, startled, and followed my gaze upward along an equine hindquarter to a figure seated atop the mahogany beast. The man extended a muscular arm to offer his hand. In his other, he held a torch over the horse's head. I curled my fingers around his tattered leather gauntlet and allowed him to pull me to my feet.

“Do you need help?” he asked with a note of concern in his voice.

I pushed back my cowl and steadied myself with one hand on the saddle. In the light, I recognized his chain mail greaves and dark green tunic. An Imperial Ranger.

He furrowed his brows upon seeing my face. “Are you... all right?” he inquired, then added, mordantly, “You're a little far from home, aren’t you?”

I felt my face flush with embarrassment, suddenly feeling unclean and out of place. I clutched at the horse's stiff hair, fearing the man would find the taint of death upon my fingers..

But my words sounded unintelligible, even to me. “I'm not... I don’t… on my way to... just looking for... a night's lodging.”

He motioned to his saddle. “There is an inn not far up the road...”

“No,” I abruptly cut him off, and then remembered my manners, though his pity was unwarranted. “Thank you. I-I'm sure I can find the way.” I lowered my head, drawing my hood up around my face.

He sighed, taking up the reins, and clicked his tongue, to which the beast retorted with a disdainful snort and clopped forward.

As I turned, the ranger glanced over his shoulder, tugging back on the bridle. “I advise you to stay on the road,” he cautioned. “These woods are dangerous, even for your kind.”

I watched until the light of his torch vanished around a bend. Any respect I might have indulged him dissolved with his parting words. Your kind. The words etched into my mind.

When at last I climbed the slatted plywood stairs, I leaned against an uneven granite wall to rest and pressed my cheek to the weather-worn door. The fragrant scent of damp cedar found me reminiscent of ancient trees shrouded in silvery mist, but smelling rotted wood and mildew, I pulled away, scrunching my nose in revulsion. Depressing the wrought iron latch, I glimpsed a carved sign hanging above the archway: Accursed Inn.

The heavy door swung inward, creaking shut on iron hinges, and I immediately spotted the innkeeper slouched on a stool behind the counter, his nose buried in a book. I stood, satchel in hand, shifting my weight from one foot to the other until the old man scratched his graying hair and regarded me with heavy-lidded eyes.

“Whaddya want?” he demanded gruffly.

A dank fetor hung in the air, clinging to the dry-rotted wood, and the stale mell of spilled mead wafted up from the floor. I supposed the establishment might have once been a tavern. I removed my hood and crossed the short distance between us, noting a fine coating of dust on the tables and chairs in the far corner and cobwebs dangling from the ceiling, a massive silver labrys hung horizontally above the rear entrance to the kitchen, glimmering in arylide candlelight from a dilapidated brass chandelier suspended from the center of the room.

Maybe coming to such a desolate place had been in poor judgment, but my legs were achy, my heart dolorous. “Just a room for the night.”

The innkeeper swatted the counter with his open tome. “Ten gold, up front.”

He watched with leery eyes as I counted coins onto the counter, and then swiped my gold into a till and gestured toward the left wall. “I got a room downstairs next to my regular. He don't like bothersome folk.”

Glancing at the wall, I hesitated before reaching, and the innkeeper held onto the key a moment longer, fixing me with another distrustful stare.

“Thank you,” I answered, but he had already gone back to his book.

I eyed the left wall, not having noticed a door or stairwell upon entering, but when I turned to question the innkeeper, he seemed disinclined to look up, much less give me the time of day. Did my eyes deceive me, or did he mean to rob me of my coin? My gaze fell, and I spotted an iron handle embedded in the floor. A trapdoor. Too tired to consider the odd placement, I lifted the door and descended a hidden stairwell beneath the inn.

Torches burned low, casting the corridor in a yellow-orange gloom. Three of four shut doors lay to my left. The closest stood partially open, revealing a dark room beyond. To my right, a washroom and a padlocked door marked the end of the hall.

I felt my skin crawl as I crossed the threshold into the cold, vacant room. Feeling along the inside wall for a wooden helve, I grabbed the torch and lit its saturated cloth off one from the corridor and shut the door behind me. An audible click resonated throughout the thin plywood, and I glanced back at the door before surveying my accommodations. A folded rag supported the broken leg of an old nightstand in the corner, and a bed cobbled together with pieces of knotted, unfinished wood and lined with a green wool blanket and sackcloth pillow appeared serviceable.

I could not shake the feeling something unseen observed me. Mayhap guilt had stayed behind to guard the dead and creep upon me as I slept, but sleep had a way of stitching the threads of dreams to weary eyes. Resolving to ensure the security of what little I owned. I tucked my dagger behind my pillow and peeled back the wool blanket.

The torch continued to burn long past a candle mark, but I lay staring at the ceiling as though sleep had plucked the stitches from my eyes. I rummaged through my satchel for the token I had, that, once a gift, would now remind me of that which I had lost. The silver band slipped easily over my ring finger. Studying the onyx insignia, two moonstone serpents wound around a silver pillar, I recalled the last coherent words she had spoken to me almost a week ago.

“Should anything happen to me...”

“No,” I shook my head. “I won't let...”

She pressed the ring into my hand. ”This will grant you safe passage.”

I stared at her, speechless, hesitating to take the ring, but she closed my fingers.

“But, the prince,” I protested.

I searched her eyes for some sign she was bluffing, but she smiled and gently kissed my lips, running her fingers through my disheveled hair. “He only cares for what he can purchase, and all his riches cannot give him me.”


That night, I dreamed tortured souls whispered in my ears as I raced blind through darkness impenetrable save that I knew I must run in one direction lest I slip and fall into an abyss. Mist clung to my skin; my boots pounded the damp soil in time with my throbbing heart. I ran, my lungs bursting, until I realized with growing dread that nothing pursued me. I stopped, and my skin prickled as if claws scraped my neck. Whirling around, I saw the red gleam of feral eyes and fangs. I turned to flee, but the hunter lunged, knocking me to the forest floor. Claws sank into my spine. Spitting out a mouthful of dirt, I drew my dagger and rolled, ripping skin from my back as I tore the fiend off me. I cried out, and raised my weapon to strike out when I came face to face with my assailant. Blood imbrued her midnight lips and snowy locks.

Help me, please, she wailed. You promised. She reached for my throat, and I tried to stay her hand, but she yanked my wrist, and I screamed as the blade plunged into her neck...

A bitter wind awakened me, and as I had dreamed in darkness, so too did I awaken, my heart racing. At first, I thought to have imagined the draft, but the torch's low flame flickered unsteadily. Becoming aware of the warmth of wool and prickly fibers against my bare legs, I pushed away the blanket.

The room had indeed grown cold again, and I started to pull the blanket around me, intending to relight the torch, but something moved in my peripheral… A colorless, almost imperceptible shape, as if on the edge of my nightmare… I searched the darkness, scanning the corner of my room as my eyes adjusted.

There! Movement in the shadows! I snatched the dagger from hiding and leaped up with a start. I leaned over the edge of the bed and glimpsed a glint of light as the torch brightened of its own accord.

I raised my dagger to strike out, but something grabbed my wrist. My fingers loosed their grip, and the blade clattered to the floor. An ethereal blue mist materialized and dissipated into the air, revealing an apparition that was not a ghost at all, but the semblance of a man. The smile beneath the velvet cowl belonged to the face of an angel. Humans referred to them as divine messengers, but my people believe in the eight Avani, ascended beings once belonging once to an entire race of winged elves who dwelt in the mythical sky-city of Ther. Winged, he was not, yet, he enthralled me with his coal-black stare. His gloved hand cupped my chin, and he lifted my face to his.

I felt his warm breath on my cheek as he spoke, his voice fearfully infinite. “For a killer, you sleep rather sound.”

“W-who are you?” I stammered. “What are you doing here?”

He held my gaze for a moment sewn into the fabric of time passing so swift yet deliberate that it was as the world had seen ages past while I lingered fathoms deep in the dark and turbulent sea of his soul. Then, he laughed in a rich, deep vibrato such as could only be expected from a heavenly bearer of music.

“Who am I?” he asked aloud, like a dream fading into the recesses of my mind. “Who I am is irrelevant, but who you are is altogether another animal.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Child, I shed light on the secrets and mysteries of existence itself, bearing hope into the dismal pit of despair; but, there are things of which the mortal mind must come to accept without ever fully understanding.”

And, so began my journey into the light of wisdom, without understanding. Of tenets we are sworn to uphold, there are but three. One: Strive always to preserve the balance of the Empire. Two: Protect the sanctity of our Brotherhood. And, three: Never accept an outside contract in conflict with the first two tenets. We are not always called upon to take a life, we do what must be done, what we have always done for over two and a half thousand years since the empire first staggered like a newborn fawn to shaky footing. We are not murderers or mere assassins; we are children of the light. We are the Tyrnea Drenn.

The setting changes from Ruyn to Old Forest Road

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Siv Drakryttare Character Portrait: Fade Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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#, as written by Sylwyn
Chapter One


Accursed Inn
6th Gysse Aril, 3485


Harding ‘The Ferret’, a ginger-haired, rat of a man, was one of the inn’s less savory patrons. He made a living by stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down, and subsequently took everything that was, and the nails, as well.

When he ‘accidentally’ brushed up against one of the new arrivals, the words, “Oops, sorry Ma’am,” escaped his mouth even as his hand lifted the stranger’s purse from her belt and tucked it away.

He’d not gone three steps before a hand clamped down on his shoulder and wheeled him around. Craning his neck, he sized up his would-be victim clad in leathers and fur, bared skin painted with tattoos and woad; long, fiery, unkempt hair cascading around her shoulders. The thief could see the hilt of a broadsword slung across the warrior’s back.

The barbarian grinned savagely. Ferret let out a frightened squeak before her fingers caught him hard under the chin, lifting him clean off his feet, and dumped him into a heap on the stained common room floor.

The woman turned over the unconscious pickpocket with the toe of his boot and retrieved her coin purse from inside the man’s cloak. Jingling it once to check its weight, she returned it to her belt and looked toward the barman, lifting an eyebrow.

The landlord, a large, burly man with a face like a bulldog’s, shrugged and produced a large tankard from behind the bar. “He was new here, Siv, he didn’t know.”

“Ya? Well he can consider that a valuable life lesson,” she answered roughly as the barkeeper filled the tankard from one of the mead barrels behind the counter and slid it across the scarred wooden surface.

A silver coin changed hands. “Still tipping well, I see,” the barman noted. “Business good?”

Siv nodded. “The damned Legion makes a good show of strength when it suits them, but they're not above using mercenaries to do their dirty work! Still, suits me just fine. Keep ‘em coming!” She raised the tankard to her lips and took a swig.

The drinks kept coming, and so did the patrons, filling early afternoon gaps into late midday. No sooner would the landlord set a ceramic mug of ale or mead, or a glass full of scotch and return to his seat beneath the double-headed axe above the bar to resume reading, than a toothy louse seated himself at the counter, gulped down a few drinks and slammed the empties onto the counter along with a handful of coins. There wasn’t a lot of gold these days, though the few yellow Cylas heads that cropped up were from the odd sorts, the kind one did not want to run into alone in the middle of the night.

Though the inn had its share of raiders and highwaymen who would try to clean out the bar or steal money and chase away paying customers, the establishment had been unusually busy today. Even a scrawny septuagenarian took up roost on a stool near the unconscious thief, tapping his foot on the fellow’s arm in steady rhythm as he blew into a harmonica.

Everything seemed to be going so well, no one noticed the door creaking open and shut on rusty, iron hinges. That is, until the dog-faced innkeeper looked up from pouring another round and suddenly dropped the stein he’d been holding. The glass made a clink against the counter top, bounced, and hit the tiles with a loud crack, shattering into pieces.

The barman stumbled backward, crunching broken pieces beneath his shoes, his mouth agape at the entrance. As if by magic, the barflies looked up and saw what he was gawping at.

They splintered off, parting into the woodworks, whilst murmurs of, “Look, it’s Fade!”, and, “The assassin, hide!” cropped up as they all looked from the dark figure at the door to the lone patron brave, or foolish, enough to stay at the bar.

With a gloved hand resting on a sheathed dagger, the figure scanned the room, iridescent eyes raking over the patrons from right to left, black cowl seeming to shift as to never reveal the obscured features. Each man cowered in the shadows, hoping they were safe from the assassin's deadly blade, but that vacant stare came to a full stop on the woman at the bar. Fingers closed around the hilt, yanked it out with the flick of a wrist and hurled it, blade-first.

Siv calmly drained her tankard and looked to the landlord for another, raising an eyebrow when she found the man cowering behind the bar. Shrugging, she helped herself to a fresh stein and resumed drinking. That was when a knife whizzed past her ear and stuck into the counter next to her

“Drakryvon!” Fade’s voice carried across the room. “I’ve been looking for you.”

The warrior set down the tanker with a thunk, pushed back her stool and got to her feet. Meeting the assassin’s gaze, she unstuck the dagger from the bar-top and bit it in half, letting the halves hit the floor.

The assassin’s multicolored hues did not so much as blink, and in three seconds, Fade, in a swish, swish of fabric, fluidly closed the gap between them, lean hips swaying right through the legs and bringing one knee-high boot down on top of the broken dagger. There were gasps from the crowd as the slimly muscled figure met the mercenary head-on, those eyes never breaking fom hers.

A small mouth behind that mask gave the face an almost feminine quality. “You’re a tough woman to track, even for someone of your stature.”

Siv glanced toward an window by the door, and briefly wondered if it had been open when she came in earlier. Scooping up the other half of the broken blade, she assassin lifted it to see poison, black as a bruise, dripping onto the floor.

“If I had a silver piece for every assassin trained in the deadly arts who thought a drop o’ poison would be enough ta put me down, I’d be a fat, wealthy woman living out her days in some mansion… huh?”

She stooped down to pick up her fallen braid of hair that had been shorn off by the dagger. In the Midwest plains she called home, warriors braided their hair after every victory, only ever cutting it when defeated in combat, as a constant reminder not to make the same mistake twice. Her many tiny plaits had never been cut, and to touch or damage a clansman’s braids was a grave insult.

“If I needed you dead,” Fade replied, “I would have put an arrow through your heart, and you would fall to the ground before you knew what hit you, but I’m not here to make enemies. So, sit down, finish your mead, and we can talk business.”

“Well, maybe ye should have thought about that before ye came strutting in here. Ye would need more than an arrow, boy,” she growled, baring sharp white canines. “Had ye been trying tae kill me, ye would have already been cleaved in half, an’ I would now be sitting, drinking a toast out of yer skull. Now, ye want ta talk? Try yer luck, and do it quickly. I don’t have all day.”

The assassin rested an elbow on the counter and one foot on the baseboard between the stools, leaving mere inches of space between them. Those eyes were full of raw power, devoid of any emotion.

“For a hired blade, let alone an Imperial underdog, you certainly leave a lot to luck,” the assassin responded, unblinking. “I assumed you would have grown tired of being used by the empire, instead reveling in the possibility of dying a hero in a blaze of glory to rejoin your brethren in the afterlife.”

“Ha!” Siv snorted, and shook her head. She set the tankard back on the counter and folded her arms, glaring at the assassin. “Doesn’t sound a bit like me,” she grumbled, looking the hooded figure up and down and glowering. “But, we don’t all kill for the right price, shade. We’re not mincing Harbingers of Death who would kill a child as soon as a tyrant.”

The barbarians were no swaggering knights, all pomp and codes of honor, but they shared a simple, savage view that the weak were not worth killing.

The assassin splayed a hand across the table, revealing a signet ring worn over a thin glove. The insignia, a Tyir Dark Elf symbol, was a serpent swallowing a rounded moonstone.

The figure by no means towered over the warrior, but a presence was still felt within those unwavering eyes. “Heed not the rumors that the Drenn are slaugh-ter-ers of the innocent, Drakyvon,” the assassin said, taking on a darker tone.

Siv could see pools of color swirling in those eyes.

“There are murderers all over Ruyn who wouldn’t think twice over killing or raping children, but we are not paid for that which with we have been tasked for more than two thousand years, long before Osiric Cylas and his ancestors took the throne from their predecessors, upsetting the fragile balance on which the empire once teetered.

Siv sneered. "Our clans have managed fine fer generations; the petty squabbles over the throne don’t concern us. ‘Keeping the balance’, as ye smug assassin types call it, that’s civilization for ye.”

"Pity, I had you pegged as a woman more honorable than the one before me. Yes, we know who you are, Drakryvon, as your reputation precedes you. The Midwest dragon clans have been all but extinguished, leaving the great Rider with sole survivorship of the responsibility of rallying the savages under one banner."

Folding her arms, Siv turned her head to one side and spat on the floorboards. "Either get to the point, or get out, and leave me in peace."

"I've wasted enough of your time, barbarian," Fade answered smoothly. "I only come as a messenger bearing tidings of an awakening in the far east which may be of some significance to you... The elves have long called him Ka..."

Siv's narrowed both eyes, brows furrowing into a line dividing the bridge of her nose.

"But, if I am not mistaken, the clans of the West refer to Drakrelib, god of the ancient dragonkin of myth..." The assassin took a sly bow and met her eyes once more before rising. "With that, I bid you good night."

Impossible, Siv thought, Drakrelib's temple is hidden in the hills to the far west. She gave no outward sign she cared or even comprehended the assassin's words, but her eyes followed Fade's exit like a hawk as she muttered, "T'was lovely chatting wit ye. Do let me know next time yer in the neighborhood; we can go fer scones."

The barman resurfaced, shakily, watching the door creak shut and the patrons emerge, counting their blessings or praying to whatever gods they thought had shown them mercy for hanging around a place like this. Pulling out a clean stein, the landlord filled it with ale and sat back down, lifting the drink to his mouth, and regarded the barbarian, unblinking.

“Sorry, Siv,” the barman said after setting down the now half-empty stein. “I’ve had my share of run-ins with rabble, but I ne’er saw so many bar-hoppers drop like flies in a summer drought. One day, I saw that man, woman, heck, I’m not even sure he’s human, but he sliced the head near clean off a man twice your size, if you can believe it. The raider swung a mace as thick as my skull, and the assassin... just wasn’t there no more, but there was a flash of steel, and the figure jumped back as the raider’s head flopped, still hanging, sinew and all. Those assassins don’t come into a place just to talk. Come to think, this is the first time in thirty years one left without spilling more than a drop of blood.”

Listening to the landlord, she had the disconcerting notion she might have just played right into the assassin’s words without even realizing it. Letting her anger rise, she grabbed a handful of the landlord’s grubby shirt, hauling him right onto the bar as if he weighed no more than a child.

“Are ye trying ta impress me, little man?” she snapped, dumping him back in his chair, and turned in stride, heading for the door.

Harding was just beginning to regain consciousness and push himself to his hands and knees as the warrior passed him. The barbarian paused, raised her foot, and brought the heel of his boot down on the thief’s fingers with a sickening crunch. He screamed and huddled into a ball on the floor clutching his shattered hand to his chest as the Drakryvon plowed straight through the tavern door and slammed it so hard as to leave it hanging half off its hinges as she strode out into the night.

Stunned , the barman just stared, his face turning beet red as the door banged against the rickety, splintered wooden frame, while some of the men in the tavern gave the bawling thief dirty looks.

One man hollered, "Someone shut 'im up!" to which another replied, "Gladly," and silenced him with a punch to the face.

The patrons threw glances all around the room, some speaking in whispered hushes and watching as the innkeeper stood up from his chair and swept some dirty mugs from the bar into a washbasin and hauled it off to the kitchen. When he returned with a damp, stained dish rag and bucket to begin wiping the counter, one of the younger men walked up, placing both hands on the bar and brazenly asked for a refill. Even the old man had picked up his harmonica, but no sooner did he put it to his lips than the barman stopped halfway through cleaning the table and looked up from under those heavy lids.

"You want more, is it?" he asked gruffly.

The young man shook his head. "No, no, if it's going to be a problem, forget it."

"What, you think this stuff comes out of some magic spring or something?"

"Not at all, I just-"

The innkeeper slammed his hand down on the wood, the loud thwap causing the man to flinch.

"You think the Watch gives a damn about what happens to small folk like us? How in Koar's name am I supposed to stay in business, when rabble like you," he jabbed his finger at the man, "keep coming through here and wrecking up the place like you were raised up by dung beetles?"

"Look," the young man threw up his hands disarmingly, "I didn't mean anything by it, I just wanted-"

The barman picked up the barbarian's stein, still partially-filled with mead, and chucked it across the counter at the far wall. The glass sailed overhead and shattered, amber liquid splashing across the floor. Nobody moved a muscle, their eyes following him as he stepped around to the other side of the counter and glared at the nearest patron, the young man who had asked for the refill.

"Get out." The words were plain and simple.

The man looked at him, stupidly.

"Are you dumb? I said: Get. Out."

The man backed toward the busted door and turned to leave, the tapping of his shoes ceasing when he reached the bottom of the steps outside.

The barkeeper eyed the rest of the patrons. "That goes for all of you, too. You heard me, GET OUT!" he bellowed, stomping to the door and thrusting it wide open. "And take the blasted thief with you!"

Slowly, but surely, the patrons began to slide out of chairs and off stools, heading for the exit. One was kind enough to drag the semi-conscious Harding to his feet; another tried to slink out with a full mug, but the barman snatched it right as he was about to take a sip. The ceramic rim clinked against yellowed teeth, and some of the mead sloshed onto the floor as the innkeeper slammed what remained of the door.

Over the next two hours, he washed dishes, scrubbed floors and wiped counters. When he decided he had the place looking presentable, he stopped to admire his handiwork. Surveying the dustless counter, he caught a glimpse of his battle axe. The handle, carved with elvish symbols and beset with three moonstones in a triple crescent, extended into a symmetrical silver blade. This door’s going to cost near everything I have. I’m not about to let those Imperial bastards take this place from me. He went behind the bar to count down the till.

After accounting for back taxes, expenses and supplies, he sighed, shaking his head. Copper, silver... There wasn't anywhere near enough gold. Pocketing the money, he stood up, staring at the labrys for several seconds before he found the courage to grab the step ladder from the kitchen. He reluctantly set the ladder open on the floor and climbed up to the top rung, grasping the labrys with both hands, and lifted it from its wall hooks. A tear welled up in one eye. When he reached the ground, he stopped to wipe it away with the back of his hand. This is it, my lady. You served me well, but, like any hot-blooded man, I proved unworthy... He kissed the blade gingerly and laid it on the counter.

In the storeroom downstairs, he picked out some boards and a satchel of tools, and strapped the labrys to his back. Minutes and nails later, with the Accursed Inn boarded up and the sign flipped around, he headed south down Old Forest Road, stopping at his house to find a torch and saddle his horse. The hour was late, and it was going to be a long, dark journey.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"It seems the warrior's burden is too great."

The phasing moons, hanging low in a violet sky, cast their spectral light over the hooded form of a woman standing in the road before him.

"My Lady," the innkeeper murmured upon glimpsing the auburn tendrils framing graceful features beneath her cowl. Crumpling to his knees, he pressed his fingers to the dirt and kissed the insteps of her small feet. "Forgive an old man. There is no name in all of Ruyn for the treachery on my hands."

"Is there?" she asked, extending a slender, upturned palm. "Look into me, and you will find a tongue icier than the North Winds still calls your name, Bruno of the Rising Dawn."

Clasping her fingers with his, he dared to gaze up into her penetrating green eyes. He saw love, lost, hopeless, fading away into darkness, cutting him deeper than the sharpest blade, for, in seeing the face he knew he would never forget, he found he could not bleed.

"No," he gasped.

"Yes, right under your nose, fool. How would your precious Anael feel if he knew the salvation of Men was at your fingertips and you let it die at the hands of a mere assassin?"

The innkeeper shook his head. "No, it can't be... Then you're..." From the corner of his eye, he caught the glint of cold steel reflecting in the moonlight, and shuddered.

The woman laughed, a smile playing on her soft lips. "Keen is the mind of a grave man when hindsight brings to light the poison fruits of his mistake."

"He bowed his head, resigned. "Please, end my torment."

The steel edge kissed his throat, and he shut his eyes.

"No," the woman answered simply, pulling her hand away. "You knights were all soft. No wonder Anael had the temple sealed. A true warrior never begs. I have no desire to put you out of your misery, old man."

Afraid to look up, he instinctively winced when she thrust the blade toward him. Palms braced against the ground, he waited for the shock of pain, but heard only the snap of leather before she lifted the weight of his sin from his shoulders.

"The stars may shine, but you... just as He cast me to this dark and desolate place, so too, shall you awaken, by morn, in darkness, and so shall you live, until your days upon this world are utterly spent."

"No, no... kill me please!" he shouted, his voice lost in a whirl of wind, and the woman was gone.

Bruno collapsed. At last, After all those years of searching, waiting, the Bearer was right at my doorstep. Now, She is dead, and I let the Arabimitore fall into Enemy hands. How could I have been so blind? Burying his face into his arms, he wrung his hands and began to sob.

In the early, predawn light, when he finally ceased convulsing, he heard a faint flutter and glanced up. Three inky black shapes circled above, their feathery wings beating a rhythm against the paling sky. One opened its toothy beak and let out an inhuman screech. Cowering, Bruno could only let out an anguished cry as the creature swooped down toward him to peck out his eyes.